The Victoria's Secret fashion chain has been forced to apologize for offending the tribal culture and history Native Americans after it modeled a feathered headdress during a show.
"We sincerely apologize as we absolutely had no intention to offend anyone," the company said in a statement.
The fashion chain revealed that it had received a flood of complains over the weekend after a recent show featured model Karlie Kloss wearing a red and white headdress, other Native American accessories, leopard-print underwear and high heels.
A number of tribes took offense to the headdress being used as a fashion accessory, because traditionally it is only meant to be worn by chiefs and warriors and is a symbol of respect, which is only earned through an act of compassion or bravery.
"We have gone through the atrocities to survive and ensure our way of life continues," Navajo Nation spokesman Erny Zah said on Monday, The Associates Press reported. "Any mockery, whether it's Halloween, Victoria's Secret – they are spitting on us. They are spitting on our culture, and it's upsetting."
"When you see a Lakota chief wearing a full headdress, you know that he was a very honorable man. He was a leader. He did a lot of honorable things for his people," added Michelle Spotted Elk, a Santa Cruz, Calif., woman of mixed heritage whose husband is Lakota. "It also has religious significance. With them, there's not a division between spirituality and their leadership."
As a response to the controversy, Kloss herself has apologized, posting on Twitter that she was "deeply sorry if what I wore during the VS Show offended anyone."
The AP reported that a handful of Native American students even hosted an event last week at a private liberal arts college in St. Paul, Minn., where the Victoria's Secret controversy came under discussion. One student, Abaki Beck, said that companies need to start engaging more with real Native Americans so they can get a better understanding of their culture and history, so that such mistakes are not repeated in the future.
"We are people; we're not a fashion statement," said student Jennie Luna, who is Chicana and Caxcan. "We are people who are facing serious issues, and for them to further perpetuate the type of stereotypes and disregard for a community's way of life is unacceptable."
Victoria's Secret has confirmed that it will not be using the Native American headdress in any future marketing campaigns.